By Helen Cross,
Ya Libnan Volunteer
When Israel bombed the Jiyeh Power Plant south of Beirut on July 13th they released 15,000 tonnes of crude oil onto the Lebanese coast. In the weeks that followed, clean-up operations were prevented by the ongoing sea blockade.
To-date less than 1% of the oil has been treated.
Stretching halfway up the Lebanese coastline from Beirut to the Syrian border, the contamination from Jiyeh one month after the first blast, has reached the seabed. Marine plants are all but destroyed, while valuable shellfish and crustaceans suffocate in an impenetrable ooze of black pollutant. The immediate effects are seen as dead fish and oil-covered debris litter the golden beaches of Lebanon. In the longer-term, marine productivity has ceased and fish spawning sites are devastated. For a nation of fishermen, this which will only mean a greater struggle; as the Lebanese strive to resume normality.
With one of the highest population densities in the world, Lebanon ranks at 26 out of 230 countries listed by the World Resources Institute. Furthermore, 100% of Lebanon’s population live within 100 km’s from the coast. In what has been called the “greatest oil spill disaster” ever seen in the Mediterranean, an estimated $200 million is now needed to drive clean-up operations and regenerate the damage inflicted upon this Levantine coast.
The Palm Islands Nature Reserve has been devastated by this recent disaster. One of only two officially designated Marine Protected Areas in the country, Palm Island hosts a hugely valuable nesting beach for the Critically Endangered green sea turtle and also boasts nests of the endangered loggerhead turtle species. Both creatures have suffered greatly as hatchlings emerge from the sand after 60 days incubation, only to travel through crude oil as they venture out to sea. And the journey for turtles from their nest into water is indeed critical. In a process known as “imprinting” sea turtles are thought to activate a homing device using magnetic cues on the sea floor, through which they can retrace their route and subsequently nest on these same beaches as adults. Should any of the hatchlings from 2006 survive, we can only hope to see them back on the shores of Palm Island in 10-15 years time.
The repercussions of Lebanon’s environmental crisis loom large. As migratory birds break their travels into northern Europe they are destined for these very same regions presently coated in Jiyehs’ oil. With 156 species of bird identified to date on the Palm Islands Reserve, the potential for catastrophe is high. The area also hosts one of the last remaining breeding sites for the Mediterranean Monk Seal, practically brought into extinction through extensive industrial fishing activity during the 1990’s. The ecological consequences of Israel’s bombardment are cited daily; headlining International Newspapers and no doubt livening up the corridors of UN and governmental ministries. But unless immediate action on the ground is accelerated, the War of 2006 will be remembered not only as a Humanitarian but also an Ecological Genocide.
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